Oh oh…I might love Australia

Image: Worakit Sirijinda / FreeDigitalPhotos.netAustralia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else in the world. Land or sea.

This has been my life’s motto for many years now. When my best friend selfishly decided to fall in love with an Aussie and he forced her to return to Sydney with him* I was distraught. How could I visit? I would surely step off the plane and into the jaws of a waiting anaconda (do they even have anacondas? I don’t know and I’m sure as hell not going to google it). Okay, so I’ve never actually heard of a tourist being mauled to death by a giant spider, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen!

We joked about room-sealing and about fashioning a transparent bubble for me to live in. I concocted elaborate theories about what floor of a hotel it would be best to stay in (the very middle, in case you’re interested). But all the while, in the back of my mind, I knew I would never see her home. I knew I would never walk her (future) kids to school, the cool visiting aunty that they would make colourful but illegible crayon drawings for. I was too afraid of everything. I might die. But even worse than that, I might be SCARED by something and PANIC!

Now, I find myself with a travel itinerary that says Sydney on it, with a gap of six whole weeks in between arrival and departure. And a plan to go to rural NSW for Christmas, to a place where I will have absolutely no control over anti-scary-things arrangements. This is BIG.

After I booked my ticket I could frequently be heard saying “I’d not even be going to Australia if my friend wasn’t there” or “nope, no travelling around for me, I’ll probably just bum around Sydney for six weeks”.

And then everything changed.

My friend emailed me and said “hey, we’re heading to Adelaide for Christmas and flights are $300”. I thought that sounded a little expensive so I went to my trusty travel advisor, Ms. Google, and checked out the trains. That’s the day I found Great Southern Rail and the Indian Pacific rail journey. How could I possibly go to Australia and not experience one of the world’s longest and most scenic rail journeys? [This great six-part piece on The Professional Hobo also helped to convince me]

The next day, my friend emailed me again and said “hey, change of plans; turns out we’re going to be staying NSW for Christmas”. The churn of disappointment in my stomach floored me.  Wait a second; I actually wanted to take a train across the outback….the outback, that place where scary-things actually LIVE.

So today, I find myself with a new plan. The week before Christmas I hope to drive both the Great Alpine Road and the Great Ocean Road, stopping in Melbourne & Adelaide for a quick look-see, and returning to Sydney by rail. [I have Sydney Melbourne Touring to thank for the driving part]. And even more surprising, my inability to fit in the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin has become a source of some disappointment to me.  

So there you have it – transformation from scaredy-cat to hesitant-but-excited-adventurer in just two websites. My excitement comes with just one disclaimer; if I do get eaten or mauled by scary-things, please don’t read this at my funeral!

(*depiction may not accurately reflect real-life events)

Image: Worakit Sirijinda / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To plan or not to plan…that’s not a question!

Image: jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Way back when (last month) I decided I would try out a “new me”. No plans – just me, my passport and an open mind. Anyone who knows me knows that’s not how I usually travel. Usually there are spreadsheets involved. Multiple spreadsheets. But this is my big trip. My journey of self-discovery. Plan schman!

Of course, it’s only common sense to research the places you plan to go a little. Key points like weather, proximity to other desired locations, known issues for solo females, etc. No problems there. I’m still spontaneous. It’s all good.

Common sense to also check out some accommodation in these places. After all, I don’t want to spend the last day in place X finding a non-flea-ridden bed in place Y. The only sensible thing to do is to pick out an option 1 & 2 in each destination, and categorise them geographically on delicious. No worries. I’m not actually booking anything!

Now, what if I get to place X and discover that there is actually no reasonable way to get to place Y. Just because they look close on the map (Zadar & Ronvinj, you know who you are!), doesn’t mean you won’t need 4 weeks and your own donkey to get between them. Best to have a loose idea of connections between all of your major destinations. And if I happen to come across the price of these transports, well, that’s just a happy coincidence, not extreme planning at all.

So today I find myself with a folder full of pdf brochures, timetables & lonely planet chapters. And a delicious account with more links than I could possibly ever revisit. Not to mention a three-tabbed excel file detailing flight connections & numbers the mammy can ring if I go missing.

I laugh at the youthful miss with dreamt of going “where the road leads me”. Turns out I’m not a project manager for nothing! But, it has to be said, I think I like my way of travelling. For instance, things my way of travelling taught me this month:

  • Eastern Europe does not heart single-sex dorms
  • Alot of hostels don’t offer security lockers
  • Getting from Skopje to Sarajevo is not simple
  • I cannot fold my map

I have discovered that, rather than being remembered as 6 weeks of drudgery and time-filling, these weeks are all about excitement and potential, changing itineraries & nights spent in my map plotting my world domination. It turns out, for me, planning to get there is actually half the fun!

Image: jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do those shoes serve an orthopaedic function?

Image: winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.netWhile I have found some excellent online blogs and guides to while away the hours between now and departure day (59 sleeps!) the one thing I’m still struggling with is travel “fashion”. Now, let me be clear from the get go – until I made a very excellent girly friend about 4 years ago, I was not well acquainted with the concept of a dress. So I’m not talking about high-fashion, catwalk-copying, might-be-spotted-for-ANTM fashion here. I’m talking about not looking like someone’s eccentric aunt, who paints abstract nudes and always has slightly crazy hair.

Backpacking through the wilderness is all very well and good, but what about those of us who plan to travel mainly through cities and towns. I’m thinking less backpacking, more extended city-break. In these instances those “interesting” (read “ugly”) mosquito-repelling, convertible trousers just won’t cut it! Sure, I need me some sensible walking shoes, but do they have to resemble steel-toe-capped boots? Absolutely, I need a rain jacket, but does it have to scream “adventure traveller” and not “chic city-dweller”?

Footwear is my most taxing concern. Being one of those lopsided individuals who requires special insoles and footwear that supports them, being fashionable is already a challenge. My trusty black pumps are perfect for a night out or a fancy dinner, but there’s no way I can wear them for any extended periods of walking. And if it wasn’t for Birkenstocks this entire post would be dedicated to whining about flip-flops! So my final decision rests on my day footwear. Do I strike for fashion and take my trusty Converse, totally transformable into “casual evening in pub” or “aren’t I cute in this little skirt”? Or do I strike for sense and take my walking shoes, totally untransformable into anything else?

I have already changed my mental “to pack” list several times, so it will be interesting to see which shoes win out in the end!

I’d love to hear what relatively trivial fashion dilemmas others have pre-occupied themselves with? And if anyone ended up walking around Thailand trying to restock on half their “leave behind” pile 30 mins after arriving!

Edit: 03 Aug
SBellatrolling through my local TK Maxx tonight I found the cutest pair of Merrells (Bella).  Now, I know they won’t be everyone’s idea of style, but I think they will look great with jeans, cargo pants and most importantly a denim skirt. Packing crisis averted!

Image: winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Netbook vs Tablet

Image: Suvro Datta / FreeDigitalPhotos.netActually, that title is probably a little misleading, as I never considered a tablet for more than about 10 seconds. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the clickety clack of keys when I’m typing and I find touch screen browsing irritating over long periods.

My main concerns when picking a netbook for my trip were (in order of importance):

  1. Long battery life
  2. Light weight
  3. Low cost so I won’t be heartbroken if it’s stolen/dropped
  4. Storage space for a stock of films/music/pics
  5. Webcam for skyping
  6. Card reader for backing up my pics

After a bit, but not alot, of research (let’s face it, they’re all pretty much the same and I have more important things to research – like the entire contents of Lonely Planet) I opted for the Samsung N145 Plus. Ordered it yesterday on Amazon, for under €200, second hand. By all accounts I’ll need to order up an additional 1GB of RAM, but I’m waiting to get my hands on it first before I buy that.

Edit: 01 Aug
The netbook has arrived. First impressions – it’s heavier than I was expecting. But after picking it up a few times I’m more comfortable with it now. It doesn’t operate at lightening speed, but I’ve found no huge differences to my own laptop so far. I’ve done some general browsing and worked on a couple of Excel documents with no issues. So far the battery life seems to be pretty good and the plug is very small & lightweight.

One thing I had read about Windows 7 Starter is the inability to change the desktop wallpaper, which IMHO is a really stupid limitation of an OS in 2011. But happily you can download software in about 30 seconds that lets you do this. Obviously, this isn’t a dealbreaker in a netbook purchase, kind of like dodgy wallpaper isn’t a reason not to purchase a house! It’s just a minor irritant because it makes no sense as a limitation! I have no intentions of upgrading to the regular Windows 7 though I have a copy, as so far the starter edition is working out fine for me. I plan to keep the netbook relatively crap-free to keep it running smoothly, so the essential software I have added thus far includes:

  • Skype
  • Evernote
  • VLC Media Player
  • Media Monkey
  • iTunes

I will update further on battery life, screen use in varying lights, video performance, etc. as I go.

Edit: 17 Aug
New RAM arrived and with the help of a youtube video, I had the whole thing upgraded in about 3 minutes. The system is definitely running faster now, but in terms of actual speeds I couldn’t possibly tell you. I just know I don’t want to throw it out a window.

I’m finding it a little hard to get used to the small screen (but I’m not a fan of even the ipad for long browsing sessions, I prefer my large-screen laptop over anything else) and the keys are a little fumbly. However, I’ve not done any extensive typing so I imagine I’ll get used to that pretty quickly. My pet peeve is backspace buttons that aren’t larger than the other keys and unfortunately the N145 does suffer from this.

A great benefit of this netbook is that the screen orientation can be changed with the keyboard, you don’t need to install anything. So, having installed Calibre and Kindle for PC and given how lightweight it is, I now essentially also own an ereader! 

Image: Suvro Datta / FreeDigitalPhotos.net